As the inaugural hum of feedback grows and launches into the fuzz-laden first riff of Red Fang’s “Prehistoric Dog”, a fleet of enemy ships erupt from the right screen and I open fire. Combat ebbs and flows to the tempo and timing of the stoner rock anthem as I blast and batter my way frantically through wave after wave of enemies, the heady mix of sights and sounds converging in something utterly exhilarating.
Your enjoyment of Freedom Finger will hinge largely upon a few factors, namely your taste in both music and humour, your penchant for punishment and perhaps even your fondness for certain substances. While visually and sonically, Wide Right Interactive’s debut is a feast for the senses, its hit-or-miss humour, brutal difficulty and sporadic structure result in a thrilling, frustrating acid trip of a game, yet one well worth experiencing.
Tasked with an intergalactic rescue mission by the Nolan North voiced Major Cigar, a gung-ho Trumpian mad man, you, a rookie pilot named Gamma Ray, hop aboard the profanely-shaped “Eagle Claw” and set out into the cosmos to kick some terrorist ass. North steals the show with a bravado-filled, obscenity-strewn performance which fuels a suitably absurd, Adult Swim-worthy story about communism and sriracha. While at times hilarious, the writing often becomes side-tracked by striving to one-up itself, relying on lazy stereotypes and brash silliness rather than smart satire or the innate oddness that makes many of its levels so captivating.
Thankfully you’ll be spending the majority of your time gunning your way through its fever-dream-like levels, each of which feels handcrafted by some half-mad drug-addled god. As you cross the multiverse through the game’s increasingly frenzied campaign, branching off in different directions based on a number of dialogue choices, you’ll find yourself dogfighting through a series of increasingly strange stages. From asteroid belts and armadas to a child’s toybox, retro arcade games and even a nightmarish flesh world, I found myself consistently surprised, if not a little disorientated, by the ever-shifting realities Freedom Finger threw at me. Each (bar one) of these worlds is rendered in the same cohesive illustrative art style yet boasts its own unique visual identity with distinct and endlessly inventive enemy designs, colour palettes and aesthetics. All of this creativity can feel a little disparate, however, leading to a campaign that, despite all its spectacle, ultimately feels disjointed and incomplete.
Providing the other half of Freedom Finger’s intoxicating, eclectic audio/visual equation is its comprehensive licensed soundtrack. By far the game’s most impressive feature, each and every track on this expertly curated selection of songs fits seamlessly into its given level, syncopating with the on-screen action to lend it a sense of rhythm. Power Trip’s “Murderer’s Row” charges wildly behind a spectacular boss battle while elsewhere you find yourself bobbing and weaving through meteorites and solar flares to the mellow grooves of Makeup and Vanity Set’s “Homecoming”. This variety kept me consistently engaged, reframing familiar songs and exposing me to new artists alike while doing an excellent job of balancing sonic intensity and serenity from level-to-level.
In fact, Freedom Finger works best as an interactive playlist. While the responsive gunplay of its bullet-hell levels at first thrilled me, I soon found it began to feel tertiary or even distracting from the sensory stimulation my eyes and ears were enjoying. That’s not to say that the act of playing Freedom Finger cannot be enjoyable; when its music, visuals and gameplay all align the sense flow is immensely empowering, but attaining this enjoyment, this flow is often frustratingly unachievable. Eventually, I found myself reaching a compromise, reducing the difficulty and thus the level of attention the gameplay demanded to instead allow each level’s sights and sounds wash over me.
This compromise was not made for want of trying. On normal difficulty, the first few stages do provide a well-balanced challenge, testing your reflexes without just enough resistance. However, soon this difficulty begins to spike and sink sporadically. Some levels ended my run within seconds, over and over, offering no powerups and no respite from an unforgiving onslaught while others seemed oddly subdued, throwing the same half a dozen enemies and obstacles at me without deviation. This inconsistency means gameplay rarely hits its sweet spot, either presenting a level of challenge so punishing that completion on anything above the ultra-forgiving “diaper” difficulty seems impossible or so pedestrian that it settles into dull repetition.
Freedom Finger is a hypnotic hallucination of game. Despite deterring me with its difficulty, it equally seems to beckon me back if only to revel in the delights of its excellent art design and sublime licensed soundtrack. While Freedom Finger’s exceptional audio/visual presentation does its best to redeem the shortcomings of the game’s wildly imbalanced difficulty and often disparate ideas, ultimately, style cannot substitute substance, resulting in a frequently frustrating yet consistently compelling music-fuelled shoot em up.
Freedom Finger PS4 Review
Overall - Very Good - 7.5/10
Freedom Finger is a wild ride through the psychedelic multiverse that while boasting consistently creative visual design and a fantastic licensed soundtrack is all too often hindered by imbalanced difficulty and inconsistent ideas.
- One of the best licensed soundtracks I’ve heard in any game!
- Endlessly inventive visual design and a distinct art style that bursts with personality.
- The inconsistent writing can, at times, be hilarious.
- Gameplay can be thrilling on the rare occasion that its challenge strikes the right balance.
- Poorly balanced difficulty makes gameplay more frustrating than it is rewarding.
- Hit-or-miss humour.
- Disparate ideas make the overall experience feel incomplete.
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Reviewed using PS4 Pro.